East: It’s always driest just before it rains

It may well be tempting fate, but I feel compelled to say we’re getting ready for a drop of rain here. I’ve registered less than 3in of rain since the 1 January –  that total varies between 68mm and 79mm across my area which covers all of Lincolnshire – and it is becoming very noticeable in the field that crops are beginning to suffer, not least through lack of nitrogen.

I am, however, mindful of the fact that “it’s always at its driest just before it pours with rain” – remember 2007 when January, February and March were almost a carbon copy of this season, but then it started raining and the rest is history. On the plus side, the septoria pressure remains low thanks to the lack of rain splash events, but like a good agronomist, my T1 fungicides are now all applied – even on the seemingly more backward pieces, because we go by growth stage and leaf emergence rather than calendar date and hapless weather forecasters – the same ones who predicted that 2014/15 would be the coldest winter for 200 years.

The anticipated surge of yellow rust didn’t happen either, despite cool conditions and heavy dews being the norm over the last four weeks – probably as a result of well timed T0 fungicides, but as with any fungicide programme, we have to work on the assumption that conditions are going to turn favourable for diseases such as septoria and rusts to explode.

Therefore, it’s important to have quality products providing the protection to the canopy – extending intervals between applications, cutting doses back in reaction to wheat prices or turning away from SDHI’s in favour of the cheaper options could be a false economy once again this season –  just like it was in 2011 (very dry year), in 2012 (very wet year) – the prices may be poor, the crop potential may be reducing with every passing week of the drought, but the septoria will still require the best products in place to control it. With a little thought and a calculator,  it soon becomes apparent that you don’t have to spend a fortune – you just need to choose the right products and get your doses and timings right.

Winter barley disease levels remain similarly low – rhynchosporium prefers wet conditions, the mildew which was widespread before Christmas is almost impossible to find and, in some of the more forward pieces of barley, the awns will most certainly be out within the next seven days or so –  therefore if you have late PGR to apply, I suggest you get your knife out and cut some plants open because the clock is ticking a little faster than normal this season.

Oilseed rape is now in full flower across the County, with 10 pods set in the more forward pieces. The need to spray for pollen beetle this spring has been minimal across Lincolnshire, with few sites coming close to threshold levels and, so far, the seed weevil levels also remain low – although I hear reports of high numbers in some spots so regular monitoring will continue – 1 seed weevil for every 2 plants being the threshold in the field – not just on the headland!

OSR disease levels also remain low thanks to timely early season applications for light leaf spot control in March and also of course the weather so far, although sclerotinia could be a real threat thanks to cracks in the stems from rapid spring growth, from flea beetle damage in some crops and from the potential change in the weather that is bound to happen at some point, so good quality protectant fungicides will be applied through flowering.

Spring barley disease levels are also minimal, and with the more forward pieces likely to reach GS30 in the next 7-10 days, T1’s are imminent. Rose grain aphids, grain aphids and bird cherry aphids are apparent in many fields now and so barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) control is underway on affected sites, the cheaper pyrethroids will last around 30 minutes in warm temperatures, so if it’s knock down control you’re aiming for then these products will be sufficient.

With spring barley crops that have been drilled to help in the fight against blackgrass, and where residuals have been stacked prior to emergence, we have to keep our fingers crossed that we have done enough and that the crop will do its job, but it’s going to need that drop of rain soon – both to wake up the residuals and to encourage the barley to put on lush growth to smother out any remaining blackgrass.

Pea and bean weevil levels are high and control is underway in many fields of spring beans, combining peas, vining peas etc – but despite the dry conditions emergence has been even. Residual herbicides will always struggle in dry conditions, so follow up contact materials will be applied as required over the coming couple of weeks – a drop of rain would help these herbicides too.

Sugar beet emergence has been steady, but with a run of nighttime frosts, herbicide applications have been delayed on many fields to avoid damaging these already stressed young plants. The pre-emergence herbicide is invaluable in seasons such as this and, once again, as soon as any rain does come it should reactivate those residuals – although knotgrass is once again causing a few sleepless nights as it moves towards one true leaf!

In the 34 years I’ve been in this industry – we have always had more yield in a dry year than a wet year – and no amount of whining has ever made it rain.

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